Political Economy 11: Property

1.Property is usually divided into two categories: moveable property and real estate (also known as real property or chattel in the UK).

In moveable property one finds items such as herds of cattle, monies, jewellery, stocks, bonds and other goods (works of art, silverware, furniture, electronics, vehicles etc). Real estate consists of buildings and land, the latter being either plainly on its own, or including mines, farms or other installations.

Property consists of the wealth or the sum of material goods a person can own.

It has always been so in recorded history. However, in antiquity and the Middle Ages, property mainly suggested ownership of swathes of land. The rich and powerful, the nobles or the aristocracy, consisted of men with considerable real estate (agricultural lands or mines), parts of which they would lease to others; or would own slaves or have serfs who would work the fields or labour in the mines.

 

2.But what of land? Is it also property, like the building that rests upon it, or the herds of cattle or the grain on its surface? Like the precious metals and stones that are mined from it, or like furniture, tools, clothes, etc?

Land is fundamentally different even from crops, buildings and mines, even though they too are real property. Even some buildings (housing) can now be constructed and shipped over from one country to another.

The land as a solid surface, a surface area of dirt, differs because it was not created by human labour and is not perishable. It has been provided by the universe, by Nature, equally for all men and predates mankind by millions of years.

Buildings, crops and mines are made through human labour and materials coming from the land, under certain geophysical and social conditions (the latter being the main subject of Political Economy). Alltheseareperishable; buildings, plants, subterranean caverns.

 

3.The greatest mistake of modern economists is to regard land as property and capital. It is this mistake that has led to terrible confusion and is the prime cause for the modern economic evils; the glaring wealth gap and the recurring recessions. Only a few people are aware of this.

Wise men of old, such as Plato, held that “Every citizen that comes to hold a piece of land, must regard it as the common property of the entire State” (Laws740A).

Similar declarations can be found in India’s Vedic tradition, in the Old Testament (Leviticus 25 and Isaiah 60,61,65) and elsewhere. It is worth mentioning that (more or less) the same ideas are expressed in the Agricultural Law of the Isaurian dynasty in Byzantium (8thcentury).

4.Additionally, the notions of “property” and “holding” are frequently conflated. It is indeed necessary for every citizen (and their family) to hold a piece of land to the exclusion of others, as stated by Plato and the Agricultural Law, but they should never regard it as absolute property so as to be able to sell it in part or in its entirety.
Absolute property is possible only with goods that mankind has produced using the naturalresources of the universe, putting its own energy into labour, with inherited goods, or goods that were bought legally– it can never be possible with land, which belongs to a different category altogether.

Only that which is produced through human labour from the great womb of the land, that which has human energy put into it, can rationally be regarded as property and wealth, like crops, livestock, buildings and other material things. Land is not one of them.

The confusion which is rife on this matter is not entirely circumstantial, as one might think. It was indeed present in the relaxed use of the vernacular. However, some academics in America introduced it on purpose into Political Economy around 1900. This will be examined in a future post.

 

5.Ultimately, a person’s real property is what they can take with them after their death.

From this point of view, since all the material wealth we accumulate and regard as our property is bound to stay behind us after our passing, it is not truly our property.

-Nikodemos

 

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